1. Similan Island
Just a short 84km boat ride from Patong Beach in Phuket (I’m being a little sarcastic with the “short” part, but hey this place is worth the trip!) Crystal blue water, sea turtles and other gorgeous marine life. This tropical hidden-gem is bordered by amazing water and wind-carved rocks, which tour guides encourage visitors to climb for a better view (many of them have ladders for this purpose too).
Shoes aren’t allowed if you decide to jump off the boat and go for a trek.
One of the most thrilling things to do here, aside from snorkeling and laying about on the stretches of sand beaches, is to ride the elephants. You can usually score a ride on one for around $20 US.
2. Phi Phi Island
First and foremost: this spot is awesome, but it’s one of the biggest money-pit-tourist spots you’ll encounter in the islands. $100 US won’t get you very far here. If you’ve ever seen the movie “The Beach” with Leo Dicaprio, but didn’t realize the movie was filmed on this tropical fantasy of an island — now you know! This is one of the most scenic places in southeast Asia. In my opinion, the world.
The rocky cliffs that border and surround this place are a rock-climber’s paradise and almost every face is outfitted with permanent anchors for this purpose. Cavernous caves with imposing stalactites are all over the place. Pitch a tent overnight and hit this place early morning to avoid the tourist crowds.
Beyond the rock faces live the monkeys that have long made Phi Phi famous. “Monkey Beach” is a relatively undeveloped part of the island, reserved as a monkey habitat/tourist hangout. They’ll come up and shake your hand, take food and otherwise entertain the heck out of you. Careful though, monkeys have a way of gaining your respect quickly with their fast, unpredictable temper — and they do have opposable thumbs!
3. Patong Beach
Patong has everything from handgliding lessons, scuba diving, rock climbing, dancing lessons, and some of the best streetfood in all of the islands. This is one of the central beach areas in all of Thailand, located on Phuket. While Patong during the day is all about sun and sand, this place really comes alive at night — as long as you’re not shy!
This place at night is like New Orleans during Mardi Gras — every night. Bars, bars, and more bars. This is also the number #1 hotspot for sex tourism, if that’s one of the reasons you’re traveling there. Sorry ladies, I can’t comment on the female side of things, though I know there’s tons of women lining the streets every night.
Main Image: “Ko Phangan, Thailand” by Alex Wright